Part 3 out of 7
confounded the dramatic with the epic style. The 'pillar' of a state is
so common a metaphor as to have lost the image in the thing meant to be
Ib. sc. 2.
Much is breeding;
Which, like the courser's hair, hath yet but life,
And not a serpent's poison.
This is so far true to appearance, that a horse-hair, 'laid,' as
Hollinshed says, 'in a pail of water' will become the supporter of
seemingly one worm, though probably of an immense number of small slimy
water-lice. The hair will twirl round a finger, and sensibly compress
it. It is a common experiment with school boys in Cumberland and
Act ii. sc. 2. Speech of Enobarbus:--
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereids,
So many _mermaids_, tended her i' th' eyes,
And made their bends adornings. At the helm
A seeming mermaid steers.
I have the greatest difficulty in believing that Shakspeare wrote the
first 'mermaids.' He never, I think, would have so weakened by useless
anticipation the fine image immediately following. The epithet 'seeming'
becomes so extremely improper after the whole number had been positively
called 'so many mermaids.'
TIMON OF ATHENS,
Act I. sc. 1.
'Tim'. _The man is honest.
'Old Ath.' Therefore he will be_, Timon. His honesty rewards him in
Warburton's comment--'If the man be honest, for that reason he will be
so in this, and not endeavour at the injustice of gaining my daughter
without my consent'--is, like almost all his comments, ingenious in
blunder: he can never see any other writer's thoughts for the
mist-working swarm of his own. The meaning of the first line the poet
himself explains, or rather unfolds, in the second. 'The man is
honest!'--'True;--and for that very cause, and with no additional or
extrinsic motive, he will be so. No man can be justly called honest, who
is not so for honesty's sake, itself including its own reward.' Note,
that 'honesty' in Shakspeare's age retained much of its old dignity, and
that contradistinction of the 'honestum' from the 'utile', in which its
very essence and definition consist. If it be 'honestum', it cannot
depend on the 'utile'.
'Ib.' Speech of Apemantus, printed as prose in Theobald's edition:--
So, so! aches contract, and starve your supple joints!
I may remark here the fineness of Shakspeare's sense of musical period,
which would almost by itself have suggested (if the hundred positive
proofs had not been extant,) that the word 'aches' was then 'ad
libitum', a dissyllable--'aitches'. For read it, 'aches,' in
this sentence, and I would challenge you to find any period in
Shakspeare's writings with the same musical or, rather dissonant,
notation. Try the one, and then the other, by your ear, reading the
sentence aloud, first with the word as a dissyllable and then as a
monosyllable, and you will feel what I mean. 
Ib. sc. 2. Cupid's speech: Warburton's correction of-
There taste, touch, all pleas'd from thy table rise--
Th' ear, taste, touch, smell, etc.
This is indeed an excellent emendation.
Act ii. sc. 1. Senator's speech:--
--nor then silenc'd with
'Commend me to your master'--and the cap
Plays in the right hand, thus:--
Either, methinks, 'plays' should be 'play'd,' or 'and' should be changed
to 'while.' I can certainly understand it as a parenthesis, an
interadditive of scorn; but it does not sound to my ear as in
Ib. sc. 2. Timon's speech: (Theobald.)
And that unaptness made _you_ minister,
Thus to excuse yourself.
Read 'your';--at least I cannot otherwise understand the line. You made
my chance indisposition and occasional unaptness your minister--that is,
the ground on which you now excuse yourself. Or, perhaps, no correction
is necessary, if we construe 'made you' as 'did you make;' 'and that
unaptness did you make help you thus to excuse yourself.' But the former
seems more in Shakspeare's manner, and is less liable to be
Act iii. sc. 3. Servant's speech:--
How fairly this lord strives to appear foul!--takes virtuous copies to
be wicked; _like those that under hot, ardent, zeal would set whole
realms on fire. Of such a nature is his politic love._
This latter clause I grievously suspect to have been an addition of the
players, which had hit, and, being constantly applauded, procured a
settled occupancy in the prompter's copy. Not that Shakspeare does not
elsewhere sneer at the Puritans; but here it is introduced so _nolenter
volenter_ (excuse the phrase) by the head and shoulders!--and is besides
so much more likely to have been conceived in the age of Charles I.
Act iv. sc. 2. Timon's speech:--
Raise me this beggar, and _deny't_ that lord.--
Warburton reads 'denude.'
I cannot see the necessity of this alteration. The editors and
commentators are, all of them, ready enough to cry out against
Shakspeare's laxities and licenses of style, forgetting that he is not
merely a poet, but a dramatic poet; that, when the head and the heart
are swelling with fullness, a man does not ask himself whether he has
grammatically arranged, but only whether (the context taken in) he has
conveyed, his meaning. 'Deny' is here clearly equal to 'withhold;' and
the 'it,' quite in the genius of vehement conversation, which a
syntaxist explains by ellipses and _subauditurs_ in a Greek or Latin
classic, yet triumphs over as ignorances in a contemporary, refers to
accidental and artificial rank or elevation, implied in the verb
'raise.' Besides, does the word 'denude' occur in any writer before, or
of, Shakspeare's age?
[Footnote 1: It is, of course, a verse,--
Aches contract, and starve your supple joints,--
and is so printed in all later editions. But Mr. C. was reading it in
prose in Theobald; and it is curious to see how his ear detected the
rhythmical necessity for pronouncing 'aches' as a dissyllable, although
the metrical necessity seems for the moment to have escaped him. Ed.]
[Footnote 2: 'Your' is the received reading now. Ed.]
ROMEO AND JULIET.
I have previously had occasion to speak at large on the subject of the
three unities of time, place, and action, as applied to the drama in the
abstract, and to the particular stage for which Shakspeare wrote, as far
as he can be said to have written for any stage but that of the
universal mind. I hope I have in some measure succeeded in demonstrating
that the former two, instead of being rules, were mere inconveniences
attached to the local peculiarities of the Athenian drama; that the last
alone deserved the name of a principle, and that in the preservation of
this unity Shakspeare stood preeminent. Yet, instead of unity of action,
I should greatly prefer the more appropriate, though scholastic and
uncouth, words homogeneity, proportionateness, and totality of
interest,--expressions, which involve the distinction, or rather the
essential difference, betwixt the shaping skill of mechanical talent,
and the creative, productive, life-power of inspired genius. In the
former each part is separately conceived, and then by a succeeding act
put together;--not as watches are made for wholesale,--(for there each
part supposes a pre-conception of the whole in some mind)--but more like
pictures on a motley screen. Whence arises the harmony that strikes us
in the wildest natural landscapes,--in the relative shapes of rocks, the
harmony of colours in the heaths, ferns, and lichens, the leaves of the
beech and the oak, the stems and rich brown branches of the birch and
other mountain trees, varying from verging autumn to returning
spring,--compared with the visual effect from the greater number of
artificial plantations?--From this, that the natural landscape is
effected, as it were, by a single energy modified 'ab intra' in each
component part. And as this is the particular excellence of the
Shakspearian drama generally, so is it especially characteristic of the
Romeo and Juliet.
The groundwork of the tale is altogether in family life, and the events
of the play have their first origin in family feuds. Filmy as are the
eyes of party-spirit, at once dim and truculent, still there is commonly
some real or supposed object in view, or principle to be maintained; and
though but the twisted wires on the plate of rosin in the preparation
for electrical pictures, it is still a guide in some degree, an
assimilation to an outline. But in family quarrels, which have proved
scarcely less injurious to states, wilfulness, and precipitancy, and
passion from mere habit and custom, can alone be expected. With his
accustomed judgment, Shakspeare has begun by placing before us a lively
picture of all the impulses of the play; and, as nature ever presents
two sides, one for Heraclitus, and one for Democritus, he has, by way of
prelude, shown the laughable absurdity of the evil by the contagion of
it reaching the servants, who have so little to do with it, but who are
under the necessity of letting the superfluity of sensoreal power fly
off through the escape-valve of wit-combats, and of quarrelling with
weapons of sharper edge, all in humble imitation of their masters. Yet
there is a sort of unhired fidelity, an 'ourishness' about all this that
makes it rest pleasant on one's feelings. All the first scene, down to
the conclusion of the Prince's speech, is a motley dance of all ranks
and ages to one tune, as if the horn of Huon had been playing behind the
Madam, an hour before the worshipp'd sun
Peer'd forth the golden window of the east--
and, far more strikingly, the following speech of old Montague--
Many a morning hath he there been seen
With tears augmenting the fresh morning dew--
prove that Shakspeare meant the Romeo and Juliet to approach to a poem,
which, and indeed its early date, may be also inferred from the
multitude of rhyming couplets throughout. And if we are right, from the
internal evidence, in pronouncing this one of Shakspeare's early dramas,
it affords a strong instance of the fineness of his insight into the
nature of the passions, that Romeo is introduced already
love-bewildered. The necessity of loving creates an object for itself in
man and woman; and yet there is a difference in this respect between the
sexes, though only to be known by a perception of it. It would have
displeased us if Juliet had been represented as already in love, or as
fancying herself so;--but no one, I believe, ever experiences any shock
at Romeo's forgetting his Rosaline, who had been a mere name for the
yearning of his youthful imagination, and rushing into his passion for
Juliet. Rosaline was a mere creation of his fancy; and we should remark
the boastful positiveness of Romeo in a love of his own making, which is
never shown where love is really near the heart.
When the devout religion of mine eye
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires!
One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun
Ne'er saw her match, since first the world begun.
The character of the Nurse is the nearest of any thing in Shakspeare to
a direct borrowing from mere observation; and the reason is, that as in
infancy and childhood the individual in nature is a representative of a
class, just as in describing one larch tree, you generalize a grove of
them,--so it is nearly as much so in old age. The generalization is done
to the poet's hand. Here you have the garrulity of age strengthened by
the feelings of a long-trusted servant, whose sympathy with the mother's
affections gives her privileges and rank in the household; and observe
the mode of connection by accidents of time and place, and the childlike
fondness of repetition in a second childhood, and also that happy,
humble, ducking under, yet constant resurgence against, the check of her
Yes, madam!--Yet I cannot choose but laugh, &c.
In the fourth scene we have Mercutio introduced to us. O! how shall I
describe that exquisite ebullience and overflow of youthful life, wafted
on over the laughing waves of pleasure and prosperity, as a wanton
beauty that distorts the face on which she knows her lover is gazing
enraptured, and wrinkles her forehead in the triumph of its smoothness!
Wit ever wakeful, fancy busy and procreative as an insect, courage, an
easy mind that, without cares of its own, is at once disposed to laugh
away those of others, and yet to be interested in them,--these and all
congenial qualities, melting into the common 'copula' of them all, the
man of rank and the gentleman, with all its excellencies and all its
weaknesses, constitute the character of Mercutio!
Act i. sc. 5.
'Tyb'. It fits when such a villain is a guest; I'll not endure him.
'Cap'. He shall be endur'd.
What, goodman boy!--I say, he shall:--Go to;--
Am I the master here, or you?--Go to.
You'll not endure him!--God shall mend my soul--
You'll make a mutiny among my guests!
You will set cock-a-hoop! you'll be the man!
'Tyb'. Why, uncle, 'tis a shame.
'Cap'. Go to, go to, You are a saucy boy! &c.--
How admirable is the old man's impetuosity at once contrasting, yet
harmonized, with young Tybalt's quarrelsome violence! But it would be
endless to repeat observations of this sort. Every leaf is different on
an oak tree; but still we can only say--our tongues defrauding our
eyes--'This is another oak-leaf!'
Act ii. sc. 2. The garden scene:
Take notice in this enchanting scene of the contrast of Romeo's love
with his former fancy; and weigh the skill shown in justifying him from
his inconstancy by making us feel the difference of his passion. Yet
this, too, is a love in, although not merely of, the imagination.
'Jul'. Well, do not swear; although I joy in thee,
I have no joy in this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden, &c.
With love, pure love, there is always an anxiety for the safety of the
object, a disinterestedness, by which it is distinguished from the
counterfeits of its name. Compare this scene with Act iii. sc. 1. of the
Tempest. I do not know a more wonderful instance of Shakspeare's mastery
in playing a distinctly rememberable variety on the same remembered air,
than in the transporting love-confessions of Romeo and Juliet and
Ferdinand and Miranda. There seems more passion in the one, and more
dignity in the other; yet you feel that the sweet girlish lingering and
busy movement of Juliet, and the calmer and more maidenly fondness of
Miranda, might easily pass into each other.
'Ib.' sc. 3. The Friar's speech:--
The reverend character of the Friar, like all Shakspeare's
representations of the great professions, is very delightful and
tranquillizing, yet it is no digression, but immediately necessary to
the carrying on of the plot.
'Ib.' sc. 4.
'Rom.' Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you? &c.--
Compare again, Romeo's half-exerted, and half real, ease of mind with
his first manner when in love with Rosaline! His will had come to the
'Ib.' sc. 6.
'Rom.' Do thou but close our hands with holy words,
Then love-devouring death do what he dare,
It is enough I may but call her mine.
The precipitancy, which is the character of the play, is well marked in
this short scene of waiting for Juliet's arrival.
Act iii. sc. 1.
'Mer.' No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door;
but 'tis enough: 'twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall
find me a grave man, &c.
How fine an effect the wit and raillery habitual to Mercutio, even
struggling with his pain, give to Romeo's following speech, and at the
same time so completely justifying his passionate revenge on Tybalt!
'Ib.' Benvolio's speech:
But that he tilts
With piercing steel at bold Mercutio's breast.--
This small portion of untruth in Benvolio's narrative is finely
'Ib.' sc. 2. Juliet's speech:
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.--
Indeed the whole of this speech is imagination strained to the highest;
and observe the blessed effect on the purity of the mind. What would
Dryden have made of it?--
'Nurse'. Shame come to Romeo.
'Jul'. Blister'd be thy tongue For such a wish!
Note the Nurse's mistake of the mind's audible struggles with itself for
its decision 'in toto'.
'Ib.' sc. 3. Romeo's speech:--
'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven's here,
Where Juliet lives, &c.
All deep passions are a sort of atheists, that believe no future.
'Ib.' sc. 5.
'Cap'. Soft, take me with you, take me with you, wife--
How! will she none? &c.
A noble scene! Don't I see it with my own eyes?--Yes! but not with
Juliet's. And observe in Capulet's last speech in this scene his
mistake, as if love's causes were capable of being generalized.
Act iv. sc. 3. Juliet's speech:--
O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier's point:--Stay, Tybalt, stay!--
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
Shakspeare provides for the finest decencies. It would have been too
bold a thing for a girl of fifteen;--but she swallows the draught in a
fit of fright.
Ib. sc. 5.
As the audience know that Juliet is not dead, this scene is, perhaps,
excusable. But it is a strong warning to minor dramatists not to
introduce at one time many separate characters agitated by one and the
same circumstance. It is difficult to understand what effect, whether
that of pity or of laughter, Shakspeare meant to produce;--the occasion
and the characteristic speeches are so little in harmony! For example,
what the Nurse says is excellently suited to the Nurse's character, but
grotesquely unsuited to the occasion.
Act. v. sc. 1. Romeo's speech:--
O mischief! thou are swift
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!
I do remember an apothecary, &c.
This famous passage is so beautiful as to be self-justified; yet, in
addition, what a fine preparation it is for the tomb scene!
'Ib.' sc. 3. Romeo's speech:--
Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man,
Fly hence and leave me.
The gentleness of Romeo was shown before, as softened by love; and now
it is doubled by love and sorrow and awe of the place where he is.
'Ib.' Romeo's speech:--
How oft when men are at the point of death
Have they been merry! which their keepers call
A lightning before death. O, how may I
Call this a lightning?--O, my love, my wife! &c.
Here, here, is the master example how beauty can at once increase and
'Ib.' Last scene.
How beautiful is the close! The spring and the winter meet;--winter
assumes the character of spring, and spring the sadness of winter.
SHAKSPEARE'S ENGLISH HISTORICAL PLAYS.
The first form of poetry is the epic, the essence of which may be stated
as the successive in events and characters. This must be distinguished
from narration, in which there must always be a narrator, from whom the
objects represented receive a coloring and a manner;--whereas in the
epic, as in the so called poems of Homer, the whole is completely
objective, and the representation is a pure reflection. The next form
into which poetry passed was the dramatic;--both forms having a common
basis with a certain difference, and that difference not consisting in
the dialogue alone. Both are founded on the relation of providence to
the human will; and this relation is the universal element, expressed
under different points of view according to the difference of religions,
and the moral and intellectual cultivation of different nations. In the
epic poem fate is represented as overruling the will, and making it
instrumental to the accomplishment of its designs:--
[Greek (transliterated):--------Dios de teleieto boulae.]
In the drama, the will is exhibited as struggling with fate, a great and
beautiful instance and illustration of which is the Prometheus of
AEschylus; and the deepest effect is produced, when the fate is
represented as a higher and intelligent will, and the opposition of the
individual as springing from a defect.
In order that a drama may be properly historical, it is necessary that
it should be the history of the people to whom it is addressed. In the
composition, care must be taken that there appear no dramatic
improbability, as the reality is taken for granted. It must, likewise,
be poetical;--that only, I mean, must be taken which is the permanent in
our nature, which is common, and therefore deeply interesting to all
ages. The events themselves are immaterial, otherwise than as the
clothing and manifestation of the spirit that is working within. In this
mode, the unity resulting from succession is destroyed, but is supplied
by a unity of a higher order, which connects the events by reference to
the workers, gives a reason for them in the motives, and presents men in
their causative character. It takes, therefore, that part of real
history which is the least known, and infuses a principle of life and
organization into the naked facts, and makes them all the framework of
an animated whole.
In my happier days, while I had yet hope and onward-looking thoughts, I
planned an historical drama of King Stephen, in the manner of
Shakspeare. Indeed it would be desirable that some man of dramatic
genius should dramatize all those omitted by Shakspeare, as far down as
Henry VII. Perkin Warbeck would make a most interesting drama. A few
scenes of Marlow's Edward II. might be preserved. After Henry VIII., the
events are too well and distinctly known, to be, without plump
inverisimilitude, crowded together in one night's exhibition. Whereas,
the history of our ancient kings--the events of their reigns, I
mean,--are like stars in the sky;--whatever the real interspaces may be,
and however great, they seem close to each other. The stars--the
events--strike us and remain in our eye, little modified by the
difference of dates. An historic drama is, therefore, a collection of
events borrowed from history, but connected together in respect of cause
and time, poetically and by dramatic fiction. It would be a fine
national custom to act such a series of dramatic histories in orderly
succession, in the yearly Christmas holidays, and could not but tend to
counteract that mock cosmopolitism, which under a positive term really
implies nothing but a negation of, or indifference to, the particular
love of our country. By its nationality must every nation retain its
independence;--I mean a nationality 'quoad' the nation. Better
thus;--nationality in each individual, 'quoad' his country, is equal to
the sense of individuality 'quoad' himself; but himself as subsensuous,
and central. Patriotism is equal to the sense of individuality reflected
from every other individual. There may come a higher virtue in
both--just cosmopolitism. But this latter is not possible but by
antecedence of the former.
Shakspeare has included the most important part of nine reigns in his
historical dramas--namely--King John, Richard II.--Henry IV.
(two)--Henry V.--Henry VI. (three) including Edward V. and Henry VIII.,
in all ten plays. There remain, therefore, to be done, with exception of
a single scene or two that should be adopted from Marlow--eleven
reigns--of which the first two appear the only unpromising
subjects;--and those two dramas must be formed wholly or mainly of
invented private stories, which, however, could not have happened except
in consequence of the events and measures of these reigns, and which
should furnish opportunity both of exhibiting the manners and
oppressions of the times, and of narrating dramatically the great
events;--if possible--the death of the two sovereigns, at least of the
latter, should be made to have some influence on the finale of the
story. All the rest are glorious subjects; especially Henry 1st. (being
the struggle between the men of arms and of letters, in the persons of
Henry and Becket,) Stephen, Richard I., Edward II., and Henry VII.
Act. I. sc. 1.
'Bast'. James Gurney, wilt thou give us leave awhile?
'Gur'. Good leave, good Philip.
'Bast'. Philip? _sparrow_! James, &c.
Theobald adopts Warburton's conjecture of '_spare me_.'
O true Warburton! and the 'sancta simplicitas' of honest dull Theobald's
faith in him! Nothing can be more lively or characteristic than 'Philip!
Sparrow!' Had Warburton read old Skelton's 'Philip Sparrow,' an
exquisite and original poem, and, no doubt, popular in Shakspeare's
time, even Warburton would scarcely have made so deep a plunge into the
_bathetic_ as to have deathified 'sparrow' into 'spare me!'
Act iii. sc. 2. Speech of Faulconbridge:--
Now, by my life, this day grows wondrous hot;
Some _airy_ devil hovers in the sky, &c.
Theobald adopts Warburton's conjecture of 'fiery.'
I prefer the old text; the word 'devil' implies 'fiery.' You need only
read the line, laying a full and strong emphasis on 'devil,' to perceive
the uselessness and tastelessness of Warburton's alteration.
I have stated that the transitional link between the epic poem and the
drama is the historic drama; that in the epic poem a pre-announced fate
gradually adjusts and employs the will and the events as its
instruments, whilst the drama, on the other hand, places fate and will
in opposition to each other, and is then most perfect, when the victory
of fate is obtained in consequence of imperfections in the opposing
will, so as to leave a final impression that the fate itself is but a
higher and a more intelligent will.
From the length of the speeches, and the circumstance that, with one
exception, the events are all historical, and presented in their
results, not produced by acts seen by, or taking place before, the
audience, this tragedy is ill suited to our present large theatres. But
in itself, and for the closet, I feel no hesitation in placing it as the
first and most admirable of all Shakspeare's purely historical plays.
For the two parts of Henry IV. form a species of themselves, which may
be named the mixed drama. The distinction does not depend on the mere
quantity of historical events in the play compared with the fictions;
for there is as much history in Macbeth as in Richard, but in the
relation of the history to the plot.
In the purely historical plays, the history forms the plot; in the
mixed, it directs it; in the rest, as Macbeth, Hamlet, Cymbeline, Lear,
it subserves it. But, however unsuited to the stage this drama may be,
God forbid that even there it should fall dead on the hearts of
Jacobinized Englishmen! Then, indeed, we might say--'praeteriit gloria
mundi'! For the spirit of patriotic reminiscence is the all-permeating
soul of this noble work. It is, perhaps, the most purely historical of
Shakspeare's dramas. There are not in it, as in the others, characters
introduced merely for the purpose of giving a greater individuality and
realness, as in the comic parts of Henry IV., by presenting, as it were,
our very selves. Shakspeare avails himself of every opportunity to
effect the great object of the historic drama, that, namely, of
familiarizing the people to the great names of their country, and
thereby of exciting a steady patriotism, a love of just liberty, and a
respect for all those fundamental institutions of social life, which
bind men to-gether:--
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a home,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth, &c.
Add the famous passage in King John:--
This England never did, nor ever shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them: nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
And it certainly seems that Shakspeare's historic dramas produced a very
deep effect on the minds of the English people, and in earlier times
they were familiar even to the least informed of all ranks, according to
the relation of Bishop Corbett. Marlborough, we know, was not ashamed to
confess that his principal acquaintance with English history was derived
from them; and I believe that a large part of the information as to our
old names and achievements even now abroad is due, directly or
indirectly, to Shakspeare.
Admirable is the judgment with which Shakspeare always in the first
scenes prepares, yet how naturally, and with what concealment of art,
for the catastrophe. Observe how he here presents the germ of all the
after events in Richard's insincerity, partiality, arbitrariness, and
favoritism, and in the proud, tempestuous, temperament of his barons. In
the very beginning, also, is displayed that feature in Richard's
character, which is never forgotten throughout the play--his attention
to decorum, and high feeling of the kingly dignity. These anticipations
show with what judgment Shakspeare wrote, and illustrate his care to
connect the past and future, and unify them with the present by forecast
It is interesting to a critical ear to compare the six opening lines of
Old John of Gaunt, time-honor'd Lancaster,
Hast thou, according to thy oath and band, &c.
each closing at the tenth syllable, with the rhythmless metre of the
verse in Henry VI. and Titus Andronicus, in order that the difference,
indeed, the heterogeneity, of the two may be felt 'etiam in simillimis
prima superficie'. Here the weight of the single words supplies all the
relief afforded by intercurrent verse, while the whole represents the
mood. And compare the apparently defective metre of Bolingbroke's first
Many years of happy days befall--
Twelve years since, Miranda! twelve years since--
The actor should supply the time by emphasis, and pause on the first
syllable of each of these verses.
Act i. sc. 1. Bolingbroke's speech:--
First, (heaven be the record to my speech!)
In the devotion of a subject's love, &c.
I remember in the Sophoclean drama no more striking example of the
[Greek (transliterated): To prepon kai semnon] than this speech; and the
rhymes in the last six lines well express the preconcertedness of
Bolingbroke's scheme so beautifully contrasted with the vehemence and
sincere irritation of Mowbray.
'Ib.' Bolingbroke's speech:--
Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries,
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth,
To _me_, for justice and rough chastisement.
Note the [Greek (transliterated): deinhon] of this 'to me,' which is
evidently felt by Richard:--
How high a pitch his resolution soars!
and the affected depreciation afterwards;--
As he is but my father's brother's son.
'Ib.' Mowbray's speech:--
In haste whereof, most heartily I pray
Your highness to assign our trial day.
The occasional interspersion of rhymes, and the more frequent winding up
of a speech therewith--what purpose was this designed to answer? In the
earnest drama, I mean. Deliberateness? An attempt, as in Mowbray, to
collect himself and be cool at the close?--I can see that in the
following speeches the rhyme answers the end of the Greek chorus, and
distinguishes the general truths from the passions of the dialogue; but
this does not exactly justify the practice, which is unfrequent in
proportion to the excellence of Shakspeare's plays. One thing, however,
is to be observed,--that the speakers are historical, known, and so far
formal, characters, and their reality is already a fact. This should be
borne in mind. The whole of this scene of the quarrel between Mowbray
and Bolingbroke seems introduced for the purpose of showing by
anticipation the characters of Richard and Bolingbroke. In the latter
there is observable a decorous and courtly checking of his anger in
subservience to a predetermined plan, especially in his calm speech
after receiving sentence of banishment compared with Mowbray's
unaffected lamentation. In the one, all is ambitious hope of something
yet to come; in the other it is desolation and a looking backward of the
'Ib.' sc. 2.
'Gaunt'. Heaven's is the quarrel; for heaven's substitute,
His deputy anointed in his right,
Hath caus'd his death: the which, if wrongfully,
Let heaven revenge; for I may never lift
An angry arm against his minister.
Without the hollow extravagance of Beaumont and Fletcher's
ultra-royalism, how carefully does Shakspeare acknowledge and reverence
the eternal distinction between the mere individual, and the symbolic or
representative, on which all genial law, no less than patriotism,
depends. The whole of this second scene commences, and is anticipative
of, the tone and character of the play at large.
'Ib.' sc. 3. In none of Shakspeare's fictitious dramas, or in those
founded on a history as unknown to his auditors generally as fiction, is
this violent rupture of the succession of time found:--a proof, I think,
that the pure historic drama, like Richard II. and King John, had its
'Ib.' Mowbray's speech:--
A dearer _merit_ Have I deserved at your highness' hand.
O, the instinctive propriety of Shakspeare in the choice of words!
'Ib.' Richard's speech:
Nor never by advised purpose meet,
To plot, contrive, or complot any ill,
'Gainst us, our state, our subjects, or our land.
Already the selfish weakness of Richard's character opens. Nothing will
such minds so readily embrace, as indirect ways softened down to their
'quasi'-consciences by policy, expedience, &c.
'Ib.' Mowbray's speech:--
...All the world's my way.
'The world was all before him.'--'Milt'.
'Boling'. How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters, and four wanton springs,
End in a word: such is the breath of kings.
'Ib.' sc. 4. This is a striking conclusion of a first act,--letting the
reader into the secret;--having before impressed us with the dignified
and kingly manners of Richard, yet by well managed anticipations leading
us on to the full gratification of pleasure in our own penetration. In
this scene a new light is thrown on Richard's character. Until now he
has appeared in all the beauty of royalty; but here, as soon as he is
left to himself, the inherent weakness of his character is immediately
shown. It is a weakness, however, of a peculiar kind, not arising from
want of personal courage, or any specific defect of faculty, but rather
an intellectual feminineness, which feels a necessity of ever leaning on
the breast of others, and of reclining on those who are all the while
known to be inferiors. To this must be attributed as its consequences
all Richard's vices, his tendency to concealment, and his cunning, the
whole operation of which is directed to the getting rid of present
difficulties. Richard is not meant to be a debauchee; but we see in him
that sophistry which is common to man, by which we can deceive our own
hearts, and at one and the same time apologize for, and yet commit, the
error. Shakspeare has represented this character in a very peculiar
manner. He has not made him amiable with counterbalancing faults; but
has openly and broadly drawn those faults without reserve, relying on
Richard's disproportionate sufferings and gradually emergent good
qualities for our sympathy; and this was possible, because his faults
are not positive vices, but spring entirely from defect of character.
Act. ii. sc. 1.
'K. Rich'. Can sick men play so nicely with their names?
Yes! on a death-bed there is a feeling which may make all things appear
but as puns and equivocations. And a passion there is that carries off
its own excess by plays on words as naturally, and, therefore, as
appropriately to drama, as by gesticulations, looks, or tones. This
belongs to human nature as such, independently of associations and
habits from any particular rank of life or mode of employment; and in
this consist Shakspeare's vulgarisms, as in Macbeth's--
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-fac'd loon! &c.
This is (to equivocate on Dante's words) in truth the _nobile volgare
eloquenza_. Indeed it is profoundly true that there is a natural, an
almost irresistible, tendency in the mind, when immersed in one strong
feeling, to connect that feeling with every sight and object around it;
especially if there be opposition, and the words addressed to it are in
any way repugnant to the feeling itself, as here in the instance of
Richard's unkind language:
Misery makes sport to mock itself.
No doubt, something of Shakspeare's punning must be attributed to his
age, in which direct and formal combats of wit were a favourite pastime
of the courtly and accomplished. It was an age more favourable, upon the
whole, to vigour of intellect than the present, in which a dread of
being thought pedantic dispirits and flattens the energies of original
minds. But independently of this, I have no hesitation in saying that a
pun, if it be congruous with the feeling of the scene, is not only
allowable in the dramatic dialogue, but oftentimes one of the most
effectual intensives of passion.
'K. Rich'. Right; you say true: as Hereford's love, so his;
As theirs, so mine; and all be as it is.
The depth of this compared with the first scene;--
How high a pitch, &c.
There is scarcely anything in Shakspeare in its degree, more admirably
drawn than York's character;--his religious loyalty struggling with a
deep grief and indignation at the king's follies; his adherence to his
word and faith, once given in spite of all, even the most natural,
feelings. You see in him the weakness of old age, and the
overwhelmingness of circumstances, for a time surmounting his sense of
duty,--the junction of both exhibited in his boldness in words and
feebleness in immediate act; and then again his effort to retrieve
himself in abstract loyalty, even at the heavy price of the loss of his
son. This species of accidental and adventitious weakness is brought
into parallel with Richard's continually increasing energy of thought,
and as constantly diminishing power of acting;--and thus it is Richard
that breathes a harmony and a relation into all the characters of the
'Ib.' sc. 2.
'Queen'. To please the king I did; to please myself
I cannot do it; yet I know no cause
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief,
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard: yet again, methinks,
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in sorrow's womb,
Is coming toward me; and my inward soul
With nothing trembles: at something it grieves,
More than with parting from my lord the king.
It is clear that Shakspeare never meant to represent Richard as a vulgar
debauchee, but a man with a wantonness of spirit in external show, a
feminine _friendism_, an intensity of woman-like love of those
immediately about him, and a mistaking of the delight of being loved by
him for a love of him. And mark in this scene Shakspeare's gentleness in
touching the tender superstitions, the 'terrae incognitae' of
presentiments, in the human mind; and how sharp a line of distinction he
commonly draws between these obscure forecastings of general experience
in each individual, and the vulgar errors of mere tradition. Indeed, it
may be taken once for all as the truth, that Shakspeare, in the absolute
universality of his genius, always reverences whatever arises out of our
moral nature; he never profanes his muse with a contemptuous reasoning
away of the genuine and general, however unaccountable, feelings of
The amiable part of Richard's character is brought full upon us by his
queen's few words--
... so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard;--
and Shakspeare has carefully shown in him an intense love of his
country, well-knowing how that feeling would, in a pure historic drama,
redeem him in the hearts of the audience. Yet even in this love there is
something feminine and personal:--
Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand,
--As a long parted mother with her child
Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting;
So weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth,
And do thee favour with my royal hands.
With this is combined a constant overflow of emotions from a total
incapability of controlling them, and thence a waste of that energy,
which should have been reserved for actions, in the passion and effort
of mere resolves and menaces. The consequence is moral exhaustion, and
rapid alternations of unmanly despair and ungrounded hope,--every
feeling being abandoned for its direct opposite upon the pressure of
external accident. And yet when Richard's inward weakness appears to
seek refuge in his despair, and his exhaustion counterfeits repose, the
old habit of kingliness, the effect of flatterers from his infancy, is
ever and anon producing in him a sort of wordy courage which only serves
to betray more clearly his internal impotence. The second and third
scenes of the third act combine and illustrate all this:--
'Aumerle'. He means, my lord, that we are too remiss;
Whilst Bolingbroke, through our security,
Grows strong and great, in substance, and in friends.
'K. Rich'. Discomfortable cousin! know'st thou not,
That when the searching eye of heaven is hid
Behind the globe, and lights the lower world,
Then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen,
In murders and in outrage, bloody here;
But when, from under this terrestrial ball,
He fires the proud tops of the eastern pines,
And darts his light through every guilty hole,
Then murders, treasons, and detested sins,
The cloke of night being pluckt from off their backs,
Stand bare and naked, trembling at themselves?
So when this thief, this traitor, Bolingbroke, &c. ...
'Aumerle'. Where is the Duke my father with his power?
'K. Rich'. No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, &c.
'Aumerle'. My father hath a power, enquire of him;
And learn to make a body of a limb.
'K. Rich'. Thou chid'st me well: proud Bolingbroke, I come
To change blows with thee for our day of doom.
This ague-fit of fear is over-blown;
An easy task it is to win our own.
'Scroop'. Your uncle York hath join'd with Bolingbroke.--
'K. Rich'. Thou hast said enough,
Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth
Of that sweet way I was in to despair!
What say you now? what comfort have we now?
By heaven, I'll hate him everlastingly,
That bids me be of comfort any more. ...
Act iii. sc. 3. Bolingbroke's speech:--
Go to the rude ribs of that ancient castle, &c.
Observe the fine struggle of a haughty sense of power and ambition in
Bolingbroke with the necessity for dissimulation.
'Ib.' sc. 4. See here the skill and judgment of our poet in giving
reality and individual life, by the introduction of accidents in his
historic plays, and thereby making them dramas, and not histories. How
beautiful an islet of repose--a melancholy repose, indeed--is this scene
with the Gardener and his Servant. And how truly affecting and realizing
is the incident of the very horse Barbary, in the scene with the Groom
in the last act!--
'Groom'. I was a poor groom of thy stable, King,
When thou wert King; who, travelling towards York,
With much ado, at length have gotten leave
To look upon my sometime master's face.
O, how it yearn'd my heart, when I beheld,
In London streets, that coronation day,
When Bolingbroke rode on roan Barbary!
That horse, that thou so often hast bestrid;
That horse, that I so carefully have dress'd!
'K. Rich'. Rode he on Barbary?
Bolingbroke's character, in general, is an instance how Shakspeare makes
one play introductory to another; for it is evidently a preparation for
Henry IV., as Gloster in the third part of Henry VI. is for Richard III.
I would once more remark upon the exalted idea of the only true loyalty
developed in this noble and impressive play. We have neither the rants
of Beaumont and Fletcher, nor the sneers of Massinger;--the vast
importance of the personal character of the sovereign is distinctly
enounced, whilst, at the same time, the genuine sanctity which surrounds
him is attributed to, and grounded on, the position in which he stands
as the convergence and exponent of the life and power of the state.
The great end of the body politic appears to be to humanize, and assist
in the progressiveness of, the animal man;--but the problem is so
complicated with contingencies as to render it nearly impossible to lay
down rules for the formation of a state. And should we be able to form a
system of government, which should so balance its different powers as to
form a check upon each, and so continually remedy and correct itself, it
would, nevertheless, defeat its own aim;--for man is destined to be
guided by higher principles, by universal views, which can never be
fulfilled in this state of existence,--by a spirit of progressiveness
which can never be accomplished, for then it would cease to be. Plato's
Republic is like Bunyan's Town of Man-Soul,--a description of an
individual, all of whose faculties are in their proper subordination and
inter-dependence; and this it is assumed may be the prototype of the
state as one great individual. But there is this sophism in it, that it
is forgotten that the human faculties, indeed, are parts and not
separate things; but that you could never get chiefs who were wholly
reason, ministers who were wholly understanding, soldiers all wrath,
labourers all concupiscence, and so on through the rest. Each of these
partakes of, and interferes with, all the others.
HENRY IV. PART I.
Act I. sc. 1. King Henry's speech:
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood.
A most obscure passage: but I think Theobalds' interpretation right,
namely, that 'thirsty entrance' means the dry penetrability, or bibulous
drought, of the soil. The obscurity of this passage is of the
'Ib.' sc. 2. In this, the first introduction of Falstaff, observe the
consciousness and the intentionality of his wit, so that when it does
not flow of its own accord, its absence is felt, and an effort visibly
made to recall it. Note also throughout how Falstaff's pride is
gratified in the power of influencing a prince of the blood, the heir
apparent, by means of it. Hence his dislike to Prince John of Lancaster,
and his mortification when he finds his wit fail on him:--
'P. John.' Fare you well, Falstaff: I, in my condition,
Shall better speak of you than you deserve.
'Fal.' I would you had but the wit; 'twere better than your
dukedom.--Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love
me;--nor a man cannot make him laugh.
Act ii. sc. 1. Second Carrier's speech:--
... breeds fleas like a _loach_.
Perhaps it is a misprint, or a provincial pronunciation, for 'leach,'
that is, blood-suckers. Had it been gnats, instead of fleas, there might
have been some sense, though small probability, in Warburton's
suggestion of the Scottish 'loch.' Possibly 'loach,' or 'lutch,' may be
some lost word for dovecote, or poultry-lodge, notorious for breeding
fleas. In Stevens's or my reading, it should properly be 'loaches,' or
'leeches,' in the plural; except that I think I have heard anglers speak
of trouts like _a_ salmon.
Act iii. sc. 1.
'Glend.' Nay, if you melt, then will she run mad.
This 'nay' so to be dwelt on in speaking, as to be equivalent to a
dissyllable--[Symbol: written as a U-shape, below the line], is
characteristic of the solemn Glendower: but the imperfect line
_She bids you_ Upon the wanton rushes lay you down, &c.
is one of those fine hair-strokes of exquisite judgment peculiar to
Shakspeare;--thus detaching the Lady's speech, and giving it the
individuality and entireness of a little poem, while he draws attention
HENRY IV. PART II.
Act ii. sc. 2.
'P. Hen'. Sup any women with him?
'Page'. None, my lord, but old mistress Quickly, and mistress Doll
'P. Hen'. This Doll Tear-sheet should be some road.
I am sometimes disposed to think that this respectable young lady's name
is a very old corruption for Tear-street--street-walker, 'terere stratum
(viam.)' Does not the Prince's question rather show this?--
'This Doll Tear-street should be some road?'
Act iii. sc. 1. King Henry's speech:
...Then, _happy low, lie down_;
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
I know no argument by which to persuade any one to be of my opinion, or
rather of my feeling; but yet I cannot help feeling that 'Happy
low-lie-down!' is either a proverbial expression, or the burthen of some
old song, and means, 'Happy the man, who lays himself down on his straw
bed or chaff pallet on the ground or floor!'
'Ib.' sc. 2. Shallow's speech:--
_Rah, tah, tah_, would 'a say; _bounce_, would 'a say, &c
That Beaumont and Fletcher have more than once been guilty of sneering
at their great master, cannot, I fear, be denied; but the passage quoted
by Theobald from the Knight of the Burning Pestle is an imitation. If it
be chargeable with any fault, it is with plagiarism, not with sarcasm.
Act I. sc. 2. Westmoreland's speech:--
They know your _grace_ hath cause, and means, and might;
So hath your _highness_; never King of England
Had nobles richer, &c.
Does 'grace' mean the king's own peculiar domains and legal revenue, and
'highness' his feudal rights in the military service of his nobles?--I
have sometimes thought it possible that the words 'grace' and 'cause'
may have been transposed in the copying or printing;--
They know your cause hath grace, &c.
What Theobald meant, I cannot guess. To me his pointing makes the
passage still more obscure. Perhaps the lines ought to be recited
They know your Grace hath cause, and means, and might:--
So _hath_ your Highness--never King of England
_Had_ nobles richer, &c.
He breaks off from the grammar and natural order from earnestness, and
in order to give the meaning more passionately.
'Ib.' Exeter's speech:--
Yet that is but a _crush'd_ necessity.
Perhaps it may be 'crash' for 'crass' from 'crassus', clumsy; or it may
be 'curt,' defective, imperfect: anything would be better than
Warburton's ''scus'd,' which honest Theobald, of course, adopts. By the
by, it seems clear to me that this speech of Exeter's properly belongs
to Canterbury, and was altered by the actors for convenience.
Act iv. sc. 3. K. Henry's speech:--
We would not _die_ in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
Should it not be 'live' in the first line?
'Ib.' sc. 5.
'Const.' O diable!
'Orl.' O seigneur! le jour est perdu, tout est perdu!
'Dan.' Mort de ma vie!_ all is confounded, all!
Reproach and everlasting shame
Sit mocking in our plumes!--'O meschante fortune!'
Do not run away!
Ludicrous as these introductory scraps of French appear, so instantly
followed by good, nervous mother-English, yet they are judicious, and
produce the impression which Shakspeare intended,--a sudden feeling
struck at once on the ears, as well as the eyes, of the audience, that
'here come the French, the baffled French braggards!'--And this will
appear still more judicious, when we reflect on the scanty apparatus of
distinguishing dresses in Shakspeare's tyring-room.
HENRY VI. PART I.
Act I. sc. 1. Bedford's speech:--
Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky;
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry's death!
Henry the fifth, too famous to live long!
England ne'er lost a king of so much worth.
Read aloud any two or three passages in blank verse even from
Shakspeare's earliest dramas, as Love's Labour's Lost, or Romeo and
Juliet; and then read in the same way this speech, with especial
attention to the metre; and if you do not feel the impossibility of the
latter having been written by Shakspeare, all I dare suggest is, that
you may have ears,--for so has another animal,--but an ear you cannot
have, 'me judice'.
This play should be contrasted with Richard II. Pride of intellect is
the characteristic of Richard, carried to the extent of even boasting to
his own mind of his villany, whilst others are present to feed his pride
of superiority; as in his first speech, act II. sc. 1. Shakspeare here,
as in all his great parts, developes in a tone of sublime morality the
dreadful consequences of placing the moral, in subordination to the mere
intellectual, being. In Richard there is a predominance of irony,
accompanied with apparently blunt manners to those immediately about
him, but formalized into a more set hypocrisy towards the people as
represented by their magistrates.
Of all Shakspeare's plays Macbeth is the most rapid, Hamlet the slowest,
in movement. Lear combines length with rapidity,--like the hurricane and
the whirlpool, absorbing while it advances. It begins as a stormy day in
summer, with brightness; but that brightness is lurid, and anticipates
It was not without forethought, nor is it without its due significance,
that the division of Lear's kingdom is in the first six lines of the
play stated as a thing already determined in all its particulars,
previously to the trial of professions, as the relative rewards of which
the daughters were to be made to consider their several portions. The
strange, yet by no means unnatural, mixture of selfishness, sensibility,
and habit of feeling derived from, and fostered by, the particular rank
and usages of the individual;--the intense desire of being intensely
beloved,--selfish, and yet characteristic of the selfishness of a loving
and kindly nature alone;--the self-supportless leaning for all pleasure
on another's breast;--the craving after sympathy with a prodigal
disinterestedness, frustrated by its own ostentation, and the mode and
nature of its claims;--the anxiety, the distrust, the jealousy, which
more or less accompany all selfish affections, and are amongst the
surest contradistinctions of mere fondness from true love, and which
originate Lear's eager wish to enjoy his daughter's violent professions,
whilst the inveterate habits of sovereignty convert the wish into claim
and positive right, and an incompliance with it into crime and
treason;--these facts, these passions, these moral verities, on which
the whole tragedy is founded, are all prepared for, and will to the
retrospect be found implied, in these first four or five lines of the
play. They let us know that the trial is but a trick; and that the
grossness of the old king's rage is in part the natural result of a
silly trick suddenly and most unexpectedly baffled and disappointed.
It may here be worthy of notice, that Lear is the only serious
performance of Shakspeare, the interest and situations of which are
derived from the assumption of a gross improbability; whereas Beaumont
and Fletcher's tragedies are, almost all of them, founded on some out of
the way accident or exception to the general experience of mankind. But
observe the matchless judgment of our Shakspeare. First, improbable as
the conduct of Lear is in the first scene, yet it was an old story
rooted in the popular faith,--a thing taken for granted already, and
consequently without any of the effects of improbability. Secondly, it
is merely the canvass for the characters and passions,--a mere occasion
for,--and not, in the manner of Beaumont and Fletcher, perpetually
recurring as the cause, and 'sine qua non' of,--the incidents and
emotions. Let the first scene of this play have been lost, and let it
only be understood that a fond father had been duped by hypocritical
professions of love and duty on the part of two daughters to disinherit
the third, previously, and deservedly, more dear to him;--and all the
rest of the tragedy would retain its interest undiminished, and be
perfectly intelligible. The accidental is nowhere the groundwork of the
passions, but that which is catholic, which in all ages has been, and
ever will be, close and native to the heart of man,--parental anguish
from filial ingratitude, the genuineness of worth, though coffined in
bluntness, and the execrable vileness of a smooth iniquity. Perhaps I
ought to have added the Merchant of Venice; but here too the same
remarks apply. It was an old tale; and substitute any other danger than
that of the pound of flesh (the circumstance in which the improbability
lies), yet all the situations and the emotions appertaining to them
remain equally excellent and appropriate. Whereas take away from the Mad
Lover of Beaumont and Fletcher the fantastic hypothesis of his
engagement to cut out his own heart, and have it presented to his
mistress, and all the main scenes must go with it.
Kotzebue is the German Beaumont and Fletcher, without their poetic
powers, and without their 'vis comica'. But, like them, he always
deduces his situations and passions from marvellous accidents, and the
trick of bringing one part of our moral nature to counteract another; as
our pity for misfortune and admiration of generosity and courage to
combat our condemnation of guilt, as in adultery, robbery, and other
heinous crimes;--and, like them too, he excels in his mode of telling a
story clearly and interestingly, in a series of dramatic dialogues. Only
the trick of making tragedy-heroes and heroines out of shopkeepers and
barmaids was too low for the age, and too unpoetic for the genius, of
Beaumont and Fletcher, inferior in every respect as they are to their
great predecessor and contemporary. How inferior would they have
appeared, had not Shakspeare existed for them to imitate;--which in
every play, more or less, they do, and in their tragedies most
glaringly:--and yet--(O shame! shame!)--they miss no opportunity of
sneering at the divine man, and sub-detracting from his merits!
To return to Lear. Having thus in the fewest words, and in a natural
reply to as natural a question,--which yet answers the secondary purpose
of attracting our attention to the difference or diversity between the
characters of Cornwall and Albany,--provided the premisses and 'data',
as it were, for our after insight into the mind and mood of the person,
whose character, passions, and sufferings are the main subject-matter of
the play;--from Lear, the 'persona patiens' of his drama, Shakspeare
passes without delay to the second in importance, the chief agent and
prime mover, and introduces Edmund to our acquaintance, preparing us
with the same felicity of judgment, and in the same easy and natural
way, for his character in the seemingly casual communication of its
origin and occasion. From the first drawing up of the curtain Edmund has
stood before us in the united strength and beauty of earliest manhood.
Our eyes have been questioning him. Gifted as he is with high advantages
of person, and further endowed by nature with a powerful intellect and a
strong energetic will, even without any concurrence of circumstances and
accident, pride will necessarily be the sin that most easily besets him.
But Edmund is also the known and acknowledged son of the princely
Gloster: he, therefore, has both the germ of pride, and the conditions
best fitted to evolve and ripen it into a predominant feeling. Yet
hitherto no reason appears why it should be other than the not unusual
pride of person, talent, and birth,--a pride auxiliary, if not akin, to
many virtues, and the natural ally of honorable impulses. But alas! in
his own presence his own father takes shame to himself for the frank
avowal that he is his father,--he has 'blushed so often to acknowledge
him that he is now brazed to it!' Edmund hears the circumstances of his
birth spoken of with a most degrading and licentious levity,--his mother
described as a wanton by her own paramour, and the remembrance of the
animal sting, the low criminal gratifications connected with her
wantonness and prostituted beauty, assigned as the reason, why 'the
whoreson must be acknowledged!' This, and the consciousness of its
notoriety; the gnawing conviction that every show of respect is an
effort of courtesy, which recalls, while it represses, a contrary
feeling;--this is the ever trickling flow of wormwood and gall into the
wounds of pride,--the corrosive 'virus' which inoculates pride with a
venom not its own, with envy, hatred, and a lust for that power which in
its blaze of radiance would hide the dark spots on his disc,--with pangs
of shame personally undeserved, and therefore felt as wrongs, and with a
blind ferment of vindictive working towards the occasions and causes,
especially towards a brother, whose stainless birth and lawful honours
were the constant remembrancers of his own debasement, and were ever in
the way to prevent all chance of its being unknown, or overlooked and
forgotten. Add to this, that with excellent judgment, and provident for
the claims of the moral sense,--for that which, relatively to the drama,
is called poetic justice, and as the fittest means for reconciling the
feelings of the spectators to the horrors of Gloster's after
sufferings,--at least, of rendering them somewhat less unendurable;
--(for I will not disguise my conviction, that in this one point the
tragic in this play has been urged beyond the outermost mark and 'ne
plus ultra' of the dramatic)--Shakspeare has precluded all excuse and
palliation of the guilt incurred by both the parents of the base-born
Edmund, by Gloster's confession that he was at the time a married man,
and already blest with a lawful heir of his fortunes. The mournful
alienation of brotherly love, occasioned by the law of primogeniture in
noble families, or rather by the unnecessary distinctions engrafted
thereon, and this in children of the same stock, is still almost
proverbial on the continent,--especially, as I know from my own
observation, in the south of Europe,--and appears to have been scarcely
less common in our own island before the Revolution of 1688, if we may
judge from the characters and sentiments so frequent in our elder
comedies. There is the younger brother, for instance, in Beaumont and
Fletcher's play of the Scornful Lady, on the one side, and Oliver in
Shakspeare's As You Like It, on the other. Need it be said how heavy an
aggravation, in such a case, the stain of bastardy must have been, were
it only that the younger brother was liable to hear his own dishonour
and his mother's infamy related by his father with an excusing shrug of
the shoulders, and in a tone betwixt waggery and shame!
By the circumstances here enumerated as so many predisposing causes,
Edmund's character might well be deemed already sufficiently explained;
and our minds prepared for it. But in this tragedy the story or fable
constrained Shakspeare to introduce wickedness in an outrageous form in
the persons of Regan and Goneril. He had read nature too heedfully not
to know, that courage, intellect, and strength of character, are the
most impressive forms of power, and that to power in itself, without
reference to any moral end, an inevitable admiration and complacency
appertains, whether it be displayed in the conquests of a Buonaparte or
Tamerlane, or in the foam and the thunder of a cataract. But in the
exhibition of such a character it was of the highest importance to
prevent the guilt from passing into utter monstrosity,--which again
depends on the presence or absence of causes and temptations sufficient
to account for the wickedness, without the necessity of recurring to a
thorough fiendishness of nature for its origination. For such are the
appointed relations of intellectual power to truth, and of truth to
goodness, that it becomes both morally and poetically unsafe to present
what is admirable,--what our nature compels us to admire--in the mind,
and what is most detestable in the heart, as co-existing in the same
individual without any apparent connection, or any modification of the
one by the other. That Shakspeare has in one instance, that of Iago,
approached to this, and that he has done it successfully, is, perhaps,
the most astonishing proof of his genius, and the opulence of its
resources. But in the present tragedy, in which he was compelled to
present a Goneril and a Regan, it was most carefully to be avoided;--and
therefore the only one conceivable addition to the inauspicious
influences on the preformation of Edmund's character is given, in the
information that all the kindly counteractions to the mischievous
feelings of shame, which might have been derived from co-domestication
with Edgar and their common father, had been cut off by his absence from
home, and foreign education from boyhood to the present time, and a
prospect of its continuance, as if to preclude all risk of his
interference with the father's views for the elder and legitimate son:--
He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again.
Act i. sc. 1.
'Cor.' Nothing, my lord.
'Lear.' Nothing can come of nothing: speak again.
'Cor.' Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more, nor less.
There is something of disgust at the ruthless hypocrisy of her sisters,
and some little faulty admixture of pride and sullenness in Cordelia's
'Nothing;' and her tone is well contrived, indeed, to lessen the glaring
absurdity of Lear's conduct, but answers the yet more important purpose
of forcing away the attention from the nursery-tale, the moment it has
served its end, that of supplying the canvass for the picture. This is
also materially furthered by Kent's opposition, which displays Lear's
moral incapability of resigning the sovereign power in the very act of
disposing of it. Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness in
all Shakspeare's characters, and yet the most individualized. There is
an extraordinary charm in his bluntness, which is that only of a
nobleman arising from a contempt of overstrained courtesy; and combined
with easy placability where goodness of heart is apparent. His
passionate affection for, and fidelity to, Lear act on our feelings in
Lear's own favour: virtue itself seems to be in company with him.
'Ib.' sc. 2. Edmund's speech:--
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, &c.
Warburton's note upon a quotation from Vanini.
Poor Vanini!--Any one but Warburton would have thought this precious
passage more characteristic of Mr. Shandy than of atheism. If the fact
really were so, (which it is not, but almost the contrary,) I do not see
why the most confirmed theist might not very naturally utter the same
wish. But it is proverbial that the youngest son in a large family is
commonly the man of the greatest talents in it; and as good an authority
as Vanini has said--'incalescere in venerem ardentius, spei sobolis
In this speech of Edmund you see, as soon as a man cannot reconcile
himself to reason, how his conscience flies off by way of appeal to
nature, who is sure upon such occasions never to find fault, and also
how shame sharpens a predisposition in the heart to evil. For it is a
profound moral, that shame will naturally generate guilt; the oppressed
will be vindictive, like Shylock, and in the anguish of undeserved
ignominy the delusion secretly springs up, of getting over the moral
quality of an action by fixing the mind on the mere physical act alone.
'Ib.' Edmund's speech:--
This is the excellent foppery of the world! that, when we are sick in
fortune, (often the surfeit of our own behaviour,) we make guilty of
our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars, &c.
Thus scorn and misanthropy are often the anticipations and mouth-pieces
of wisdom in the detection of superstitions. Both individuals and
nations may be free from such prejudices by being below them, as well as
by rising above them.
'Ib.' sc. 3. The Steward should be placed in exact antithesis to Kent,
as the only character of utter irredeemable baseness in Shakspeare. Even
in this the judgment and invention of the poet are very observable;--for
what else could the willing tool of a Goneril be? Not a vice but this of
baseness was left open to him.
'Ib.' sc. 4. In Lear old age is itself a character,--its natural
imperfections being increased by life-long habits of receiving a prompt
obedience. Any addition of individuality would have been unnecessary and
painful; for the relations of others to him, of wondrous fidelity and of
frightful ingratitude, alone sufficiently distinguish him. Thus Lear
becomes the open and ample play-room of nature's passions.
'Knight'. Since my young lady's going into France, Sir; the fool hath
much pin'd away.
The Fool is no comic buffoon to make the groundlings laugh,--no forced
condescension of Shakspeare's genius to the taste of his audience.
Accordingly the poet prepares for his introduction, which he never does
with any of his common clowns and fools, by bringing him into living
connection with the pathos of the play. He is as wonderful a creation as
Caliban;--his wild babblings, and inspired idiocy, articulate and gauge
the horrors of the scene.
The monster Goneril prepares what is necessary, while the character of
Albany renders a still more maddening grievance possible, namely, Regan
and Cornwall in perfect sympathy of monstrosity. Not a sentiment, not an
image, which can give pleasure on its own account, is admitted; whenever
these creatures are introduced, and they are brought forward as little
as possible, pure horror reigns throughout. In this scene and in all the
early speeches of Lear, the one general sentiment of filial ingratitude
prevails as the main spring of the feelings;--in this early stage the
outward object causing the pressure on the mind, which is not yet
sufficiently familiarized with the anguish for the imagination to work
'Gon.' Do you mark that, my lord?
'Alb.' I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
To the great love I bear you.
'Gon'. Pray you content, &c.
Observe the baffled endeavour of Goneril to act on the fears of Albany,
and yet his passiveness, his 'inertia'; he is not convinced, and yet he
is afraid of looking into the thing. Such characters always yield to
those who will take the trouble of governing them, or for them. Perhaps,
the influence of a princess, whose choice of him had royalized his
state, may be some little excuse for Albany's weakness. 'Ib.' sc. 5.
'Lear'. O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!
Keep me in temper! I would not be mad!--
The mind's own anticipation of madness! The deepest tragic notes are
often struck by a half sense of an impending blow. The Fool's conclusion
of this act by a grotesque prattling seems to indicate the dislocation
of feeling that has begun and is to be continued. Act ii. sc. 1.
He replied, Thou unpossessing bastard! &c.
Thus the secret poison in Edmund's own heart steals forth; and then
observe poor Gloster's--
Loyal and _natural_ boy!
as if praising the crime of Edmund's birth!
'Ib.' Compare Regan's--
What, did _my father's_ godson seek your life?
He whom _my father_ named?
with the unfeminine violence of her--
All vengeance comes too short, &c.
and yet no reference to the guilt, but only to the accident, which she
uses as an occasion for sneering at her father. Regan is not, in fact, a
greater monster than Goneril, but she has the power of casting more
venom. 'Ib.' sc. 2. Cornwall's speech:--
This is some fellow,
Who, having been praised for bluntness, doth affect
A saucy roughness, &c.
In thus placing these profound general truths in the mouths of such men
as Cornwall, Edmund, Iago, &c. Shakspeare at once gives them utterance,
and yet shews how indefinite their application is.
'Ib.' sc. 3. Edgar's assumed madness serves the great purpose of taking
off part of the shock which would otherwise be caused by the true
madness of Lear, and further displays the profound difference between
the two. In every attempt at representing madness throughout the whole
range of dramatic literature, with the single exception of Lear, it is
mere light-headedness, as especially in Otway. In Edgar's ravings
Shakspeare all the while lets you see a fixed purpose, a practical end
in Lear's, there is only the brooding of the one anguish, an eddy
without progression. 'Ib.' sc. 4. Lear's speech:--
The king would speak with Cornwall; the dear father
Would with his daughter speak, &c.
No, but not yet: may be he is not well, &c.
The strong interest now felt by Lear to try to find excuses for his
daughter is most pathetic. 'Ib.' Lear's speech:--
Thy sister's naught;--O Regan, she hath tied
Sharp-tooth'd unkindness, like a vulture, here.
I can scarce speak to thee;--thou'lt not believe
Of how deprav'd a quality--O Regan!
'Reg'. I pray you, Sir, take patience; I have hope,
You less know how to value her desert,
Than she to scant her duty.
'Lear' Say, how is that?
Nothing is so heart-cutting as a cold unexpected defence or palliation
of a cruelty passionately complained of, or so expressive of thorough
hard-heartedness. And feel the excessive horror of Regan's 'O, Sir, you
are old!'--and then her drawing from that universal object of reverence
and indulgence the very reason for her frightful conclusion--
Say, you have wrong'd her!
All Lear's faults increase our pity for him. We refuse to know them
otherwise than as means of his sufferings, and aggravations of his
'Ib.' Lear's speech:--
O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous, &c.
Observe that the tranquillity which follows the first stunning of the
blow permits Lear to reason.
Act iii. sc. 4. O, what a world's convention of agonies is here! All
external nature in a storm, all moral nature convulsed,--the real
madness of Lear, the feigned madness of Edgar, the babbling of the Fool,
the desperate fidelity of Kent--surely such a scene was never conceived
before or since! Take it but as a picture for the eye only, it is more
terrific than any which a Michel Angelo, inspired by a Dante, could have
conceived, and which none but a Michel Angelo could have executed. Or
let it have been uttered to the blind, the howlings of nature would seem
converted into the voice of conscious humanity. This scene ends with the
first symptoms of positive derangement; and the intervention of the
fifth scene is particularly judicious,--the interruption allowing an
interval for Lear to appear in full madness in the sixth scene.
'Ib.' sc. 7. Gloster's blinding:--
What can I say of this scene?--There is my reluctance to think
Shakspeare wrong, and yet--
Act iv. sc. 6. Lear's speech:--
Ha! Goneril!--with a white beard!--They flattered me like a dog; and
told me, I had white hairs in my beard, ere the black ones were there.
To say _Ay_ and _No_ to every thing I said!--Ay and No too was no good
divinity. When the rain came to wet me once, &c.
The thunder recurs, but still at a greater distance from our feelings.
'Ib.' sc. 7. Lear's speech:--
Where have I been? Where am I?--Fair daylight?--
I am mightily abused.--I should even die with pity
To see another thus, &c.
How beautifully the affecting return of Lear to reason, and the mild
pathos of these speeches prepare the mind for the last sad, yet sweet,
consolation of the aged sufferer's death!
Hamlet was the play, or rather Hamlet himself was the character, in the
intuition and exposition of which I first made my turn for philosophical
criticism, and especially for insight into the genius of Shakspeare,
noticed. This happened first amongst my acquaintances, as Sir George
Beaumont will bear witness; and subsequently, long before Schlegel had
delivered at Vienna the lectures on Shakspeare, which he afterwards
published, I had given on the same subject eighteen lectures
substantially the same, proceeding from the very same point of view, and
deducing the same conclusions, so far as I either then agreed, or now
agree, with him. I gave these lectures at the Royal Institution, before
six or seven hundred auditors of rank and eminence, in the spring of the
same year, in which Sir Humphry Davy, a fellow-lecturer, made his great
revolutionary discoveries in chemistry. Even in detail the coincidence
of Schlegel with my lectures was so extraordinary, that all who at a
later period heard the same words, taken by me from my notes of the
lectures at the Royal Institution, concluded a borrowing on my part from
Schlegel. Mr. Hazlitt, whose hatred of me is in such an inverse ratio to
my zealous kindness towards him, as to be defended by his warmest
admirer, Charles Lamb--(who, God bless him! besides his characteristic
obstinacy of adherence to old friends, as long at least as they are at
all down in the world, is linked as by a charm to Hazlitt's
conversation)--only as 'frantic;'--Mr. Hazlitt, I say, himself replied
to an assertion of my plagiarism from Schlegel in these words;--"That is
a lie; for I myself heard the very same character of Hamlet from
Coleridge before he went to Germany, and when he had neither read nor
could read a page of German!" Now Hazlitt was on a visit to me at my
cottage at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in the summer of the year 1798, in
the September of which year I first was out of sight of the shores of
Great Britain. Recorded by me, S. T. Coleridge, 7th January, 1819.
The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet have
long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics; and, as we are
always both to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in
ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy
process of setting it down as in fact inexplicable, and by resolving the
phenomenon into a misgrowth or 'lusus' of the capricious and irregular
genius of Shakspeare. The shallow and stupid arrogance of these vulgar
and indolent decisions I would fain do my best to expose. I believe the
character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspeare's deep and accurate
science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that this character must have some
connection with the common fundamental laws of our nature may be assumed
from the fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in
which the literature of England has been fostered. In order to
understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on the
constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished from the brute
animals in proportion as thought prevails over sense: but in the healthy
processes of the mind, a balance is constantly maintained between the
impressions from outward objects and the inward operations of the
intellect;--for if there be an overbalance in the contemplative faculty,
man thereby becomes the creature of mere meditation, and loses his
natural power of action. Now one of Shakspeare's modes of creating
characters is, to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in
morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakspeare, thus mutilated or
diseased, under given circumstances. In Hamlet he seems to have wished
to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between our attention
to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our
minds,--an 'equilibrium' between the real and the imaginary worlds. In
Hamlet this balance is disturbed: his thoughts, and the images of his
fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very
perceptions, instantly passing through the 'medium' of his
contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally
their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual
activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon
it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities. This character
Shakspeare places in circumstances, under which it is obliged to act on
the spur of the moment:--Hamlet is brave and careless of death; but he
vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses
the power of action in the energy of resolve. Thus it is that this
tragedy presents a direct contrast to that of Macbeth; the one proceeds
with the utmost slowness, the other with a crowded and breathless
The effect of this overbalance of the imaginative power is beautifully
illustrated in the everlasting broodings and superfluous activities of
Hamlet's mind, which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly
occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the world
without,--giving substance to shadows, and throwing a mist over all
common-place actualities. It is the nature of thought to be
indefinite;--definiteness belongs to external imagery alone. Hence it is
that the sense of sublimity arises, not from the sight of an outward
object, but from the beholder's reflection upon it;--not from the
sensuous impression, but from the imaginative reflex. Few have seen a
celebrated waterfall without feeling something akin to disappointment:
it is only subsequently that the image comes back full into the mind,
and brings with it a train of grand or beautiful associations. Hamlet
feels this; his senses are in a state of trance, and he looks upon
external things as hieroglyphics. His soliloquy--
O! that this too too solid flesh would melt, &c.
springs from that craving after the indefinite--for that which is
not--which most easily besets men of genius; and the self-delusion
common to this temper of mind is finely exemplified in the character
which Hamlet gives of himself:--
--It cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall
To make oppression bitter.
He mistakes the seeing his chains for the breaking them, delays action
till action is of no use, and dies the victim of mere circumstance and
There is a great significancy in the names of Shakspeare's plays. In the
Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Winter's
Tale, the total effect is produced by a co-ordination of the characters
as in a wreath of flowers. But in Coriolanus, Lear, Romeo and Juliet,
Hamlet, Othello, &c. the effect arises from the subordination of all to
one, either as the prominent person, or the principal object. Cymbeline
is the only exception; and even that has its advantages in preparing the
audience for the chaos of time, place, and costume, by throwing the date
back into a fabulous king's reign.
But as of more importance, so more striking, is the judgment displayed
by our truly dramatic poet, as well as poet of the drama, in the
management of his first scenes. With the single exception of Cymbeline,
they either place before us at one glance both the past and the future
in some effect, which implies the continuance and full agency of its
cause, as in the feuds and party-spirit of the servants of the two
houses in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet; or in the degrading
passion for shews and public spectacles, and the overwhelming attachment
for the newest successful war-chief in the Roman people, already become
a populace, contrasted with the jealousy of the nobles in Julius
Caesar;--or they at once commence the action so as to excite a curiosity
for the explanation in the following scenes, as in the storm of wind and
waves, and the boatswain in the Tempest, instead of anticipating our
curiosity, as in most other first scenes, and in too many other first
acts;--or they act, by contrast of diction suited to the characters, at
once to heighten the effect, and yet to give a naturalness to the
language and rhythm of the principal personages, either as that of
Prospero and Miranda by the appropriate lowness of the style,--or as in
King John, by the equally appropriate stateliness of official harangues
or narratives, so that the after blank verse seems to belong to the rank
and quality of the speakers, and not to the poet;--or they strike at
once the key-note, and give the predominant spirit of the play, as in
the Twelfth Night and in Macbeth;--or finally, the first scene comprises
all these advantages at once, as in Hamlet.
Compare the easy language of common life, in which this drama commences,
with the direful music and wild wayward rhythm and abrupt lyrics of the
opening of Macbeth. The tone is quite familiar;--there is no poetic
description of night, no elaborate information conveyed by one speaker
to another of what both had immediately before their senses--(such as
the first distich in Addison's Cato, which is a translation into poetry
of 'Past four o'clock and a dark morning!');--and yet nothing bordering
on the comic on the one hand, nor any striving of the intellect on the
other. It is precisely the language of sensation among men who feared no
charge of effeminacy for feeling, what they had no want of resolution to
bear. Yet the armour, the dead silence, the watchfulness that first
interrupts it, the welcome relief of the guard, the cold, the broken
expressions of compelled attention to bodily feelings still under
control--all excellently accord with, and prepare for, the after gradual
rise into tragedy;--but, above all, into a tragedy, the interest of
which is as eminently 'ad et apud infra', as that of Macbeth is directly
In all the best attested stories of ghosts and visions, as in that of
Brutus, of Archbishop Cranmer, that of Benvenuto Cellini recorded by
himself, and the vision of Galileo communicated by him to his favourite
pupil Torricelli, the ghost-seers were in a state of cold or chilling
damp from without, and of anxiety inwardly. It has been with all of them
as with Francisco on his guard,--alone, in the depth and silence of the
night;--''twas bitter cold, and they were sick at heart, and _not a